Hats off to dads and grads

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

Dads and grads, we love them all. And June is the month for celebrating those we love: the dads, who made it happen, and the grads who made it. Hosting a party or a backyard gathering to celebrate them is what's on our social calendar for the next few weeks.

But you want to make sure that each one knows how special they are in their own way. For starters, serving their favorite foods is key. While the Class of 2015 adores pizza and chicken wings, burgers and dogs, Dad may have his sights (and appetite) set on a grilled steak and potato salad. Still, there's room for imagination and innovation so that you can serve up a feast that will impress everyone. And because it is summer after all, let the grill play a key role in the event. (Tip from a professional caterer for the barbecue: If you want to use the grill, reduce your stress and precook your meat. Keep the meat warm in a chafing dish, so it doesn't dry out.)

Let's explore some A-plus ideas for the grad and some worthy dishes for dear dad.

For instance, for the pizza crowd, grill up some tasty pies instead of the usual delivery. Encourage your guests to create their own pies from a host of toppings, it's a great way to get a party started. Purchase ready-made pizza dough or use pre-made crusts to cut the prep. Include some gourmet toppings such as sun-dried tomatoes, a variety of mushrooms, asparagus, special cheeses and sauces. Even cooler, combine the pizza and wings idea and make Buffalo Wings Pizzas to impress (see recipe). Hot sauce, blue cheese dressing and mozzarella cheese top cubed chicken for all those Buffalo lovers.

A taco bar is another way to stimulate the crowd to circulate. Grill some marinated skirt steak or pork tenderloin, thinly slice and set out with add-ins from a variety of salsas to avocado and fresh lime.

Grilled veggies are always a hit with any crowd. Grilled eggplant, zucchini, carrots, asparagus, potatoes and fennel look so pretty on a platter and served with a dill sauce guests will gobble them up. You can grill them up hours ahead of time, serve cold and watch them disappear.

And don't forget dessert. If Dad's a bacon lover, then he'll gobble up some bacon chocolate chip cookies (see recipe) which also make a great ice cream sandwich. And speaking of ice cream sandwich, who doesn't love these soft, creamy confections? Just use these pre-made delights to make an easy and outstanding dessert (see recipe).

Cupcakes also seem to be the best choice. You can have fun decorating them in a variety of ways, including using peanut butter cups and chocolate covered graham crackers to resemble mortarboards or arranging the little cakes to spell out 2015 or your grad's name. Frost the cupcakes with icing in the high school, college or favorite colors.

As for Father, he may prefer something a little more refined. Instead of a pizza, he might want skirt steak (see recipe), which is an affordable cut, but grills up beautifully. Or even some pulled pork that you've made the day before and kept warm in a slow cooker. Add a baked potato bar and he just may retire to the hammock before the party's over. Potatoes can be pre-baked and kept warm in a chafing dish. Provide a variety of toppings including sour cream, green onions, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, ground beef, tomatoes, salsa.

But these are only a few suggestions on how to fete your favorite family members. Here are some other dandy ideas to make either Dad's day or grad's day grand:

Main event

Mexican taco bar: Serve spicy ground beef, ground turkey or chicken in crock pots and put the cold items (lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, olives, onions) in bowls floating on ice to keep them cool. Arrange the hard and/or soft taco shells in a Mexican serving bowl or basket. Or serve taco chips. Or create "walking tacos" by providing small bags of Doritos. To make a walking taco, just open the bag of Doritos, add the meat you want and the toppings.

Pasta Bar: Serve several different pastas (eg: rotini, penne, shells) and different sauces (marinara, a white or Alfredo sauce, and a meat sauce). Let your guests create their own favorite pasta dish. Pastas and sauces can be kept warm in chafing dishes or crock pots. Serve with one or two salads (Caesar or tossed) and a variety of breads.


Let guests assemble their own. Provide all kinds of fresh vegetables and/or fruit with several dressings. Use a honey dressing for the fruit.

Tasty desserts

Custom cakes are fun. You can order a photo cake with a picture of Dad holding his first born or the grad starting the first day of school.

Cupcakes are clever and easy. Use a sweet station or cupcake tree to display them and keep replenishing them throughout your party. Cupcakes come in two sizes — regular and mini. So if your guests aren't big dessert eaters, you might want to choose the mini option. With cupcakes, you don't have to worry about when you should cut the cake and they're less messy, too.

Cake Pops are always cool. Make them or buy them in your school colors, college colors or simply your favorite colors. They come decorated with sprinkles, peanuts and coconut or serve them plain.

S'mores at a fire pit bring out the kid in all of us. Provide several baskets full of marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers. Have plenty of roasting sticks on hand.

Ice cream sundae bar: Serve ice cream with a variety of toppings — strawberry and chocolate sauce, crushed oreo cookies, nuts, chocolate chips, gummy bears, pineapple, strawberries, cherries, sprinkles, and whipped cream. It's easy, fun and your guests will love it. To save time, pre-scoop up the ice cream the night before and freeze in cups. You can also use them to make root beer floats.


A summer tradition of big pitchers of iced tea, lemonade or fruit juices for the grad. Or whip up a summer punch. Make an ice ring using one of the punch ingredients so that as it melts it will not dilute the punch. A Bundt pan or angel food cake pan works well for an ice ring.

For dad, you can create a special cocktail in his honor or provide plenty of craft beers from the many Michigan craft beer companies.


Grilled Skirt Steak

Recipe from Melissa Clark, New York Times

Serve with a fresh green salad or potato salad or cut the meat, first along the grain into manageable sections, then against the grain and at a sharp angle into thin slices. Serve these wrapped in warm tortillas or sheets of lettuce, accompanied by chopped tomatoes and sliced avocado and some shredded cheese, if you like.

1 cup basil leaves, more for garnish

3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced, more for garnish

2 tablespoons lemon thyme leaves, more for garnish

2 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peperoncini (1 to 2 peppers), pickled jalapeño or other pickled peppers

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 pounds skirt steak

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, scallions, lemon thyme, garlic, peperoncini, salt and lemon zest and juice. Pour olive oil over mixture; blend until it turns to paste.

Using paper towels, pat steak dry and place in a large bowl; slather paste mixture all over meat. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Light the grill. Use a paper towel to pat steak dry. (You can leave some of the paste, but for the best sear, the meat should be dry when it hits the grill.) Grill meat over direct heat until char lines appear, and meat is done to taste, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing against the grain and serving, garnished with herbs and scallions. Serves 8.

Per serving: 342 calories; 24 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g sugar; 92 mg cholesterol; 850 mg sodium; 28 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Golden Beet and Red Potato Salad

From allrecipes.com

1 pound golden beets (1 3/4 inches wide, greens trimmed before weighing)

1 pound red thin-skinned potatoes (1 1/4 inches wide), scrubbed and cut in half

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

Salt and pepper

8 ounces watercress

Crumbled browned bacon

In a 6-to-8-quart pan over high heat, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Add beets, reduce heat to medium-high, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes to the beets, cover again, and cook until both are tender when pierced, about 10 minutes longer. Drain and let cool. Peel beets, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, parsley, horseradish, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix dressing into the potatoes.

Rinse watercress. Pick tender sprigs from tough stems and cut into 3-to-4-inch lengths. Arrange sprigs on a platter. Top with potatoes, then arrange beets over mixture. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 129 calories; 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 19 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 5 mg cholesterol; 96 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Buffalo-Style Chicken Pizza

From allrecipes.com

3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves — cooked and cubed

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 ounces bottled hot sauce

1 (8-ounce) bottle blue cheese salad dressing

1 (16-inch) prepared pizza crust

1 (8-ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl combine the cubed chicken, melted butter and hot sauce. Mix well. Spread whole bottle of salad dressing over crust, then top with chicken mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Bake in preheated oven or on the grill until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Let set a few minutes before slicing, and serve. Serves 6.

Per serving: 576 calories; 33 fat ( 11 saturated fat; 52 percent calories from fat); 36 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 87 mg cholesterol; 1,159 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe adapted from seriouseats.com

1 pound of thick-cut smoked bacon

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, melted

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the bacon: Cook bacon until crispy and set aside on paper towels to drain excess grease. (Yes, it is a lot of bacon, but we are making a lot of cookies.)

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter and all sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped bacon by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1 tablespoon at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 6 dozen, depending on cookie size.

Per serving: 144 calories; 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 18 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 24 mg cholesterol; 83 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Dessert Cheese Ball

Recipe adapted from quickcooking.com

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Graham crackers or chocolate graham crackers, fruit

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Just before serving, roll cheese ball in pecans. Serve with graham crackers and fruit. Yield: 1 cheese ball (about 2 cups). Serves 16.

Per serving: 205 calories; 17 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 75 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 32 mg cholesterol; 106 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Blueberry Tart

Recipe adapted from realsimple.com

Flour for the work surface

1 8-ounce sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons confectioners sugar

2 cups blueberries

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, unfold the sheet of pastry and roll it into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using the tip of a knife, score a 1-inch border around the pastry without cutting all the way through. Brush the border with the egg and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake until golden and puffed, 18 to 22 minutes.

Using the tip of a knife, rescore the border of the cooked pastry without cutting all the way through. Gently press down on the center of the pastry sheet to flatten it. Let cool to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the cream, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of the confectioners sugar and beat until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly within the borders of the pastry.

Arrange the blueberries in a single layer over the filling and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of confectioners' sugar. Serves 10.

Per serving: 250 calories; 17 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 61 percent calories from fat); 21 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 52 mg cholesterol; 207 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

From realhousemoms.com

Takes 10 minutes to assemble, 1 hour to freeze and 5 minutes to devour.

6 ice cream sandwiches.

8 ounces (3 cups) of whipped topping (store bought or homemade)

4-5 crushed Oreo cookies

Line an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2 loaf pan with parchment paper, allowing extra to hang over the sides of the pan.

Unwrap 3 of the ice cream sandwiches and cut one in half. Leave the other 2 whole to fit the pan.

Arrange ice cream sandwiches in bottom of pan. These should cover the bottom of the pan.

Top the ice cream sandwiches with 1/2 of whipped topping and spread to cover completely. Top with the crushed Oreo cookies.

Unwrap the other 3 ice cream sandwiches and cut one in half. Layer the ice cream sandwiches in the same manner on top of the whipped topping. Push down gently to help squish down the sides. Top with the remaining whipped topping to cover completely.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least an hour until firm. Remove from freezer and lift parchment to remove the cake from the pan.

Using a knife, smooth out the whipped topping and spread it over any parts that might need a little extra.

Garnish the cake any way you like with extra Oreos or drizzle caramel or chocolate sauce on top or leave plain. Serves 8.

Per serving: 220 calories; 10 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 41 percent calories from fat); 27 g carbohydrates; 16 g sugar; 15 mg cholesterol; 73 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Grilled Chicken Wings

Recipe from foodnetwork.com

3 pounds chicken wings

/ cup Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

/ cup soy sauce

/ teaspoon ground ginger

Cut the chicken wings into three pieces and discard tips.

Mix remaining ingredients into a bowl. Add wings and stir. Cover and marinate for 45 minutes.

Place pieces on the grill and brush with remaining mixture.

Grill over medium-hot coals about 15-20 minutes, turning once. Serves 6.

Per serving: 391 calories; 26 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 99 mg cholesterol; 896 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.

Cherry Tomato Salad

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

1 English cucumber peeled and chopped

1 2/3 cups pitted and sliced green olives

1 3/4 (6 ounce) cans black olives, drained and sliced

3 1/4 green onions, minced

5 ounces pine nuts

3/4 cup and 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil

3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons white sugar

1 3/4 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup crumbled feta

In a large bowl, combine cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green olives, back olives, and spring onion.

In a dry skillet, toast pine nuts over medium heat until golden brown, turning frequently. Stir into tomato mixture.

In a small bowl, mix together olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over salad, add crumbled feta and gently stir to coat. Chill for 1 hour. Serves 10.

Per serving: 325 calories; 32 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 89 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 798 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 3 g fiber.